Eat, Love, Pray & Play Bali – Part 5.
After a one and a half hour van ride from Seminyak, followed by a bumpy traverse over narrow unpaved tracks deep into the paddy fields, we finally arrived at our destination – Agung Khalia Villa, abode for our 5 nights in Ubud, Bali.
This incredibly alluring villa complex is surrounded by plots of lush paddy fields; we learned from our driver that they belong to different farming families, with the boundaries of ownership demarcated by small shrines planted at the corners of each plot.
Agung Khalia Villa has an interesting history, as told to me by the villa manager Guru, a local Balinese who incidentally is a superb hospitality professional who doesn’t say no to any guest requests. Apparently the co-owner of the villa, Californian college professor Laura Leaver, used to lead school trips to Bali. She fell in love with the place and decided to build this villa with her then guide, and now co-owner Agung. Hence the name Agung Khalia – Khalia being the name of Laura’s eldest daughter. Another newer and more modern villa (featured further down this post) is named after her second daughter Maia. Sketched sepia portraits of both daughters grace the reception area.
The main complex comprises 1 spacious 3-bedroom two-story palace-like villa (we booked into this one) with a large pool set within a lush private garden; 2 similar-sized villas with a shared pool; and a honeymoon and a studio suite sandwiched between the 2 sets of villas; each has a small dipping pool. The lovely elevated dining terrace located at one end of the complex offers panoramic views of the lush surrounds.
Our villa is very spacious. There are overhead fans in every bedroom (comes with air-conditioning), living area, patio and balcony to supplement the cool fresh air from the volcanic highland and verdant rice fields. All the villas are designed with screened windows and doors to facilitate natural air flow, and yet able to keep unwanted insects and the likes at bay. There’s free broadband wireless and satellite TV with international channels, but we didn’t find the need nor the inclination to turn on the TV during our entire stay. A fully equipped kitchen is there for those wanting to try their culinary skills.
The decor is traditional Balinese but you can see Laura’s hands at work with little lovely touches: gauzy curtains, local artefacts and ornaments, meticulously kept grounds, fresh flowers placed every day on your beds and rolled towels, and the list goes on – that make this place homely and so special. What’s amazing is that this tranquil sanctuary is only 10 minutes drive to Ubud’s prime shopping, dining and entertainment district via a free on-demand shuttle service that operates from morning till late. A basket of laundry cost only S$5, and wash is returned the same day meticulously pressed and smelling wonderfully fresh. The staff are super-friendly, the service is warm and genuine, and beyond first class.
Villa Maia, a recent development in a plot of land adjacent to the main villa complex, is named after Laura’s second daughter: self-contained, and features 2 ensuite bedrooms and a large pool complete with a Balinese gazebo and chaise lounges. There is a full kitchen, and an outdoor as well as an indoor dining area. The decor here is very different; more chic and modern, and reminds me very much of resorts stays in Australia.
We enjoyed the Balinese (predominately Hindu-influenced) culture and tradition that is in abundance everywhere you go. Here, and as in all across Bali, there’s this daily routine of offerings (known as Banten) to the higher beings, in small baskets woven out of banana leaves filled with a combination of flowers , fruits, rice, salt and even candy; or at least that’s what it looked like to me. Each morning we could see a woman dressed in a sarong and sash placing Bantens (each with a lighted incense-stick) on walkways, doorsteps, shrines and all over the villa grounds.
The dining menu is limited but the food is pretty good. Eggs feature heavily, so you will not be surprised to see staff bringing crates of fresh-laid eggs. Our simple shared-lunch of a club sandwich, fried rice and fried noodles were well prepared and presented.
For breakfast, there’s a choice of western or local fare that were delicious too. The Balinese French Toast is rather unusual – like regular French toast except it’s filled with sweetened grated coconut and drizzled generously with maple syrup. The early morning paddy field views from the breakfast terrace is soothing and mesmerising. If so desired, breakfast can be delivered to your villa.
Guru, the villa manager took us for a 2-hour early morning walk around the plots of verdant paddy fields surrounding the complex. Jaw-dropping scenery greets us at every step, beautifully framed by the majestic volcanic mountains in the distant horizon, with the lush green field contrasting sharply with the clear blue sky.
We saw men and women toiling the land, busy planting rice saplings barefoot and bent-over; back-breaking work indeed. Now I truly better understand and appreciate the rice that we eat and take for granted everyday – little grains of someone’s sweat and blood.
Along the way, we spotted durian trees, laden with the pungent and spiky king of fruits; I was drooling as it’s my favourite too! Further on, we encountered a man herding a flock of ducks with a special flag-staff that seems to magically guide the ducks in the direction he wanted; and also chanced upon an unattended flock enjoying the waters, blissfully unaware that they will soon be fodder for Bali’s special duck dish of Bebek.
What’s also amazing about this sanctuary is that it’s only 10 to 15 minutes away from the action at the town center where shops, massages, handicrafts, and eateries of all kinds and budgets await to lighten your wallet. Beware of the traffic chaos though.
Ubud is known for its wood carvings, and there’s plenty of wood handicraft factories to experience. The craftsmen are incredibility talented, chiselling away at the piece of wood without any drawing, just guided by their imagination.
Don’t miss the hustle and bustle of the morning markets to get a taste of the real Balinese way of life. it’s great fun to wander and browse, and the prices are ridiculously low – S$2 for a gorgeous piece of sarong. Any takers?
Of course no visit to Bali would be complete without the obligatory temple visit. The Pura Taman Kemuda Saraswati temple is not large by any standard, but we enjoyed its serenity (there was hardly a crowd despite its location right smack in town) and the beautiful setting next to a large lotus pond shaded by ancient magnolia trees. The famous Cafe Lotus is on the same grounds.
Overall, our experience at Agung Khalia Villa ranks very high among the many places we have been. I can’t pinpoint the exact reason – it’s a combination of the tranquility of the place; easy access to fine dining and shopping; the magnificent natural beauty of the land; the pervasiveness of traditions; the palatial, comfortable and elegant villa; the warm hospitality of the crew; the affordability of the rates, and too many other factors to mention.
I quote the welcome message from Agung Khalia Villa, “We invite you to experience our wonderful little slice of Balinese paradise. Enjoy the idyllic atmosphere complete with panoramic rice fields, fun interactions between staff and guests, and Balinese traditions which all make Villa Agung Khalia a superb place to stay. Our gracious Balinese staff are here 24 hours a day to help create the holiday of your dreams.”
Paraphrasing the quote from the movie Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner, Agung Khalia has built, and they will come. I’m only glad I came to realise my dream holiday among the fields; and I shall return.
Agung Khalia Villa
Tampaksiring, Kab. Gianyar
Bali 80552, Indonesia